Wine review — Alinga, Louee Wines and McKellar Ridge

Louee Nullo Mountain Pinot Grigio 2010 $25

Louee Wines, established in 1996 by Rod James and Tony Maxwell, has two vineyards at Rylstone, near Mudgee – one on Nullo Mountain at an altitude of about 1100 metres. This high, cool site produces intensely flavoured whites with a strong but delicate spine of acid. This accentuates the vivid varietal flavour in the 11-per-cent-alcohol pinot gris and sharpens up the clean, bone-dry refreshing finish. Last year Louee Wines merged with David Lowe Wines of Mudgee. Lowe, a Hunter veteran, excels at making this low alcohol, high acid, slow maturing style of white.

McKellar Ridge Canberra District

  • Shiraz Viognier 2009 $26-$28
  • Trio Cabernet Sauvignon Cabernet Franc Merlot 2009 $26-$28

Brian and Janet Johnston make just 600 cases of wine each year. They are truly handmade – hand picked from their 650-metre altitude Point of View vineyard and hand plunged. Their ‘Trio’, combining three of the Bordeaux varieties, seems a bit bigger a broodier than earlier vintages – a solid, deeply fruity wine with assertive tannin but nevertheless elegant structure. In a similar solid vein, the 2009 shiraz viognier blend seems particularly ripe and full (in the fine-boned Canberra context) with noticeable seam of oak flavours through the fruit. These are excellent wines but need another few months in bottle before drinking.

Alinga Four Winds Vineyard Canberra District

  • Chardonnay 2009 $17
  • Shiraz 2008 $19

The Lunney family planted their 13-hectare Four Winds vineyard at Murrumbateman in 1998 during BRL Hardy’s push into the region. Indeed, daughter Jaime Lunney worked two Canberra vintages with Hardys and now makes the family wines. The unoaked chardonnay, sourced from Four Winds and other Canberra vineyards offers a great big gob full of ripe melon-and-peach chardonnay flavours – a simple, generous, fruity and fresh wine. The estate-grown shiraz is just lovely, and great value. It’s in the elegant, refined Canberra style – limpid colour; bright and ripe berry fruit underlying spicy and savoury characters; and a juicy, easy-drinking medium-bodied palate.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2011


Wine review — Rutherglen Estate, Leogate, Maipenrai, Leasingham and Fox Gordon

Rutherglen Estate Savagnin 2010 $16.95
Rutherglen, Victoria

Like other Australian winemakers Rutherglen Estate planted the Spanish white variety albarino only to learn that the CSIRO, source of all our stock, had been given savagnin by the Spanish supplier. Savagnin is the non-muscat clone of gewürztraminer and to smell and taste the two is to be puzzled why they have identical DNA but taste so very different. This is a lovely, bone dry, low alcohol white with floral aroma, vibrant, citrusy palate, rich texture and savoury finish.

Leogate Early Release Reserve Chardonnay 2010 $25
Brokenback Vineyard, Lower Hunter Valley, New South Wales

Bill and Vicki Widin recently acquired the beautiful Brokenback vineyard, located at the foot of the Brokenback Range. They bought part of it from Foster’s and part of it from Tyrrell’s, thus reuniting what had originally been a single vineyard acquired by Rothbury Estate in 1969. Read the full story at as you sip this delicate but full-bodied chardonnay. It’s deliciously varietal, spritely and fresh but still has a subtle background complexity from partial maturation on yeast lees in oak barrels.

Maipenrai Pinot Noir 2008 $27
Sutton, Canberra District, New South Wales

What an exciting pinot – the best I’ve seen from Canberra, and at three barrels probably the smallest production wine likely to be reviewed in this column. Yep, just three barrels “made up of fruit from our MV6, 777, 114 and 115 clones”, writes winemaker Brian Schmidt. Maipenrai delivers most of pinot’s great features: limpid colour; high-toned perfume, combined with varietal fruit, savouriness and a hint of stalkiness; similar fruity, savoury, stalky flavour; luxurious, silky texture; and a decent line of tannin holding it all together. See

Leasingham Schobers Vineyard Shiraz 2006 $62.50
Schobers vineyard, Clare Valley, South Australia

Some readers might recall Leasingham Classic Clare Shiraz 1994, winner of the 1995 Jimmy Watson trophy – a solid wine, big on fruit, tannin, colour and oak. It was sourced from the Schobers vineyard. Later, under Steve Pannell, the style evolved considerably, resulting in a clearer expression of the vineyard’s vivid fruit and subtler, more complimentary use of oak. The limited release 2006, made by Kerri Thompson and Simon Osicka, is a wonderfully polished, elegant wine, capturing deep, bright, sweet, ripe, spicy shiraz flavours completely integrated with subtle oak. It’s looking young and fresh at five years, but won’t appear again under the Leasingham label.

Leasingham Schobers Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 $62.50
Schobers vineyard, Clare Valley, South Australia

What on earth will the new owners of the Leasingham brand do? They own the name but not the winery or key vineyards like Schobers that stood behind the brand. They might taste this glorious cabernet as they ponder the future of a brand stripped of its roots. There’s a touch of mint in the evocative, pure cabernet aroma – a note that comes through, too, in the lively, juicy flavour of this elegant, fine, deeply flavoured wine. The Schobers vineyard, however, is carrying on under the ownership of Canberra’s Jim Murphy and Michael Phelps, with wines being made by O’Leary Walker, Clare Valley. Future vintages will appear under their new Schobers label.

Fox Gordon Princess Fiano 2011 $16–$20
Adelaide Hills, South Australia

There’s an interesting style contrast between this fiano (a variety from Campania, Italy), grown in the cool Adelaide Hills, and the warm-grown version from Rutherglen Estate reviewed last week. Fox Gordon’s version, made by Tash Mooney, offers greater concentration of fruit flavour and a particularly racy, acid backbone. It’s savoury and, in the Italian style, packs a piquant bite in the finish. Mooney makes this one for Coles’ Vintage Cellars and 1st Choice chains.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2011


Howland and Wiggs buy original Lake George vineyard

Last November as Canberra’s grape vines burst into life, Peter Wiggs and Peter Howland walked onto the original Lake George vineyard, accompanied by its founder, 90 year-old Dr Edgar Riek. Wiggs and Howland had just bought the vineyard from Theo and Sam Karelas, its owners since 1998.

Riek’s presence was more than symbolic. He planted Cullarin (the property name) in 1971, experimented with dozens of varieties, and devoted thousands of hours to perfecting the vineyard and wines, sold under the Lake George Winery label.

Even when Riek, then 78, sold Cullarin in 1998, it was keep the dream alive for another generation. But he says he’s been disappointed to see the vineyard marking time for most of the last twelve years – except for a welcome but brief period of rejuvenation under Alex McKay and Nick O’Leary, following Hardy’s departure from the district.

That brief period of new planting, grafting and re-trellising saw the vineyard almost double in size, and the introduction of shiraz and tempranillo.

Howland certainly connects Riek’s vision to his own. He views the property as “Edgar’s garden – a library of vines” and describes Riek as “the greatest resource of all. He comes out here every couple of weeks and has so much knowledge”. Riek says it’s wonderful seeing his dream coming back to life again.

Howland says that he and Peter Wiggs began searching for a small, established, cool-climate vineyard some years back. They’d been particularly fascinated by Cote-Rotie style shiraz and short-listed several regions, including Canberra, capable of making the style.

When they discovered Cullarin up for sale, they visited the site, dug around and ultimately bought the property, including about five-hectares of vine and four sheds. The Lake George Winery name, however, remains with Theo and Sam Karelas next door on the former Madew property, which they acquired in 2008.

Howland writes, “I will be viticulturist with responsibility for both the vineyard and winemaking. Our focus is on making high quality shiraz, pinot noir and chardonnay. Production for 2011 will be approximately 800 cases, rising to approximately 1,500 cases for 2013. Our plan is continue the revitalisation of the vineyard that was began by Alex Mackay. We will also be re-establishing the winery and hope to open a cellar door in 2013 (to coincide with release of the 2011 vintage wines).

Howland says he arrived at the vineyard last November, “just after budburst. It was not in great shape at all, then rain brought up all the weeds”.

However, that’s all under control now, he says, and despite the rain and consequent mildew problems in by the district, the vineyard carries a good crop of healthy fruit. The few problems he sees are in dense canopies on an old T-trellis system. Fruit on a more open vertical-shoot-positioning system, established by McKay and O’Leary, seems perfect – confirming a first impression that the whole vineyard should be converted to the system.

Over time, Howland plans to build up good soil nutrition using biodynamic principles – good soil nutrition being key to healthy vines. And healthy vines, of course, produce tasty fruit – the key to good wine.

By the time this year’s crop ripens (it’s now at veraison stage, where red varieties begin to colour and bullet-hard berries soften), one of the sheds will be fitted out as a winery.

Howland sees his coming vintage at Lake George as a time for trial and observation of the vineyard’s pinot noir, shiraz, pinot gris, viognier, cabernet, malbec, chardonnay, tempranillo and mourvedre. Afterwards he can decide what stays, what goes and what gets expanded.

Howland studied oenology at Adelaide University and has made wine in Italy, the Hunter Valley, Western Australia and Argentina. He has an interest in online retailing through Suitcase Wines, offering individual vineyard wines from around the world, and Hidden Talent, devoted to small-batches from boutique winemakers.

Peter Wiggs is a managing partner of Archer Capital, an Australian private equity investment business claiming “the longest track record of any leveraged buyout manager in Australia”.

Archer led the management buyout of Cellarmaster Group from Foster’s in 2007. Cellarmasters is a vertically integrated wine direct marketing group making, packaging, selling and delivering wine direct to its customers in Australia and New Zealand. (Shortly after this article’s publication in the The Canberra Times, Archer announced the sale of Cellarmaster to Woolworths).

With Howland’s expertise in vineyard and winery and Wigg’s money and background in business management, Edgar Riek’s vision may finally be realised.

Sadly, the wines won’t appear under the Cullarin or Lake George Winery brands. But whatever name Howland and Wiggs select, the wines will be entirely from the original vineyard. This is terrific news. Edgar Riek is still smiling.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2011


Wine review — Capital Wines, Z4 and Katnook Estate

Capital Wines Canberra District

  • The Backbencher Merlot 2009 $25
  • The Senator Chardonnay 2009 $22

Capital wines is a partnership between the Moody and McEwin families with Mark Moody in the vineyard, Jennie Moody in the marketing department and Andrew McEwin in the winery. Both of these wines come from their Kyeema vineyard, Murrumbateman. The merlot, though slightly paler than the sublime $46 reserve version, offers a terrifically fragrant, pure expression of the variety with a lovely core of plummy fruit flavour. The vibrant Senator chardonnay features fresh melon rind/ melon and peach varietal flavours with a touch of oak and a lively, refreshing acidity. It’s a lovely and simply poohs all over sauvignon blanc.

Z4 Wines Canberra District

  • Zoe Riesling 2010 $16
  • Zane Shiraz 2009 $19

Z4 is a merchant brand owned by Canberra wine marketers Bill and Maria Mason. I’m not sure if their wines or kids came first, nor if their given names, all beginning with Z, reflect the character of the wines they’re named after. The vinous versions of Zoe and Zane, both from the Four Winds vineyard and made at Canberra Winemakers by Rob Howell and Greg Gallagher, offer fair value in the Canberra regional style – the riesling fresh, crisp and reasonably dry and the shiraz savoury and medium bodied. You’ll find them in Canberra retail outlets and on restaurant wine lists.

Katnook Founder’s Block Coonawarra Riesling 2009 $18

A peculiarity, and blessing, of a white wine boom several decades ago is the considerable area of riesling planted in Coonawarra – an area noted more for red wine than white. Wine companies trying to be all things to all people often threw a little of everything into the vineyards. Riesling not only survives there, but also produces healthy yields and makes delicious wines at comparatively modest prices. Katnook, from the heart of classic Coonawarra, benefits, as well, from a couple of years bottle age – adding richness and texture to its zesty and still ultra fresh, light and delicate citrusy varietal flavour.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2011

Wine review — Capital Wines, Rutherglen Estate, Black Jack, Main Ridge Estate and Lanson

Capital Wines The Frontbencher Shiraz 2009 $25
Murrumbateman, Canberra District, New South Wales

Winemaker Andrew McEwin sourced fruit for the Frontbencher from Kyeema Vineyard, Ellenvale and Barton Estate. It shows the same touch of class we’re seeing in so many Canberra 2009 reds – a great depth of vivid berry fruit flavours. And in the style long established by McEwin, there’s a generous dollop of tannin forming a chewy, satisfying matrix with the fruit. This’ll help it through a few years in bottle. But it also means you’ll need to glug a bit of air into it to reveal the lovely fruit now.

Rutherglen Estate Fiano 2010 $21.95
Rutherglen, Victoria

A number of Australian vignerons, mainly in hotter regions, now grow fiano, a white native of Italy’s warm, dry Campania region. Rutherglen Estate’s well made 2010, its third vintage, gives a good impression of what to expect from the variety. It’s clean, fresh, zesty, richly textured and dry. The varietal template says to expect “herbal, nutty, smoky spicy notes and hazelnut”. I found herb and spice and touch of pear, a pleasant savouriness and a quite grippy, pleasantly tart finish. This is a long way from our usual fare, but it’s unlikely to be the next sauv blanc.

Capital Wines Kyeema Vineyard Reserve Merlot 2009 $46
Murrumbateman, Canberra District, New South Wales

It’s not a case of move over shiraz. But Kyeema’s 2009 merlot confirms that Canberra has a second red variety in the very top league. It’s the latest and probably the best from a long line of distinguished merlots made by Andrew McEwin from the Kyeema vineyard. The colour’s limpid, the aroma’s alluring and the palate’s elegant, albeit firmly tannic. But crack the nut of tannin and revel in the kernel of pure, juicy, plummy merlot underneath. It needs a good splash in the decanter before drinking now. But Kyeema will best be enjoyed after another five or six years bottle age.

Black Jack Chortle’s Edge Shiraz 2008 $18
Bendigo, Victoria

It’s dark and big and bold and ripe and juicy and fifteen per cent alcohol. But belying its mammoth size, it’s spicy and savoury and very much in the cool-climate shiraz aroma and flavour mould – a true and big-value example of the Bendigo style. Chortle’s Edge, made by proprietors Ian McKenzie and Ken Pollock, comes from the Turner’s Crossing vineyard, Bridgewater, and Fielding family vineyard, North Harcourt, within the Bendigo region.

Main Ridge Estate Chardonnay 2009 $55
Main Ridge, Mornington Peninsula, Victoria

Hemingway’s description of wine as “one of the most natural things of the world that has been brought to the greatest perfection” captures Main Ridge chardonnay – a wine brought to its current beauty over many decades by Nat and Rosalie White. The combination of vineyard work, aimed at perfecting berry flavours, and sensitive winemaking, aimed at capturing flavour and building texture, deliver a full, silky, delicate chardonnay that demands, always, just one more sip. It’s a beautiful wine and from experience, evolves well in the cellar.

Lanson Champagne Brut NV $65
Champagne, France

Most Champagne houses put their base wines through a malo-lactic fermentation, a process that reduces total acidity and softens the wine. There’s good reason to do this in a cold region where austerity in wine is the norm. Because Lanson elects to block this process, their wines present a pleasantly tart but still delicious face of the region. I find it too acidic to enjoy on its own; but well chilled with food it comes to life as a great refresher and teasing foreplay to something more substantial.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2011

Canberra’s Jim Murphy and Michael Phelps buy historic Clare vineyard

In July 2009 wine retailer Jim Murphy and Canberra lawyer Michael Phelps bought the Schobers vineyard – one of three prime Clare Valley sites offered by Constellation Wines Australia in a mass clearance of its Australian wine assets.

In October 2008 Constellation had announced the coming sale of three large wineries – Langton in Western Australia, Stonehaven on South Australia’s Limestone Coast and Leasingham in the Clare Valley. Also on offer were 1,322 hectares of vineyard in South Australia, including Schobers, and 169 hectares in Western Australia. The company had already sold its Kamberra Wine Tourism complex and 85-hectare Holt vineyard to Canberra’s Elvin Group.

With a glut of vineyards on the market at the time and buyers nervous, prices fell. Murphy won’t reveal what he paid for Schobers vineyard, but said, “It was a good price, below replacement cost”.

I always loved the area”, he said, “and all the great Leasingham bin wines. I first visited there in 1970 with Max Schubert [creator of Penfolds Grange]. Max bought wine from Mick Knappstein [Leasingham winemaker] for Grange. Max was fascinated with the area and always needed Clare grapes for Grange, Bin 707 and Bin 389. He thought the wines were very elegant”.

Then in 2009 Murphy took a call from Peter Dawson, Constellation’s former chief winemaker, urging him to buy the Schobers vineyard.

As winemaker for Australia’s second largest producer and exporter, Dawson knew intimately the quality potential of hundreds of vineyards in every important wine-growing region in Western Australia, South Australia, Victoria, New South Wales and Tasmania.

Dawson rated Schobers among the top 20 red vineyards in Australia, recalls Clare Valley winemaker David O’Leary (uncle of Canberra’s Nick O’Leary). He’d received the same excited phone call from Dawson, but not having the money to buy it, joined Dawson in urging Murphy to do so.

Murphy didn’t need much persuasion and over lunch with Michael Phelps found a partner. “We bought it in July”, says Murphy, “and by August we were busy pruning. We’d hired a full time manager, Allen Weedon, and he got contractors in to work it. It had been let go under Constellation”.

The quick restoration paid off and in 2010 Murphy and Phelps sent 200-tonnes of shiraz and cabernet sauvignon to the nearby O’Leary Walker winery for processing. O’Leary describes the wines as “concentrated and powerful”.

Processing the fruit seemed like working with an old friend again, says O’Leary, as he’d made reds from Schobers vineyard in the early nineties at Hardy’s Tintara winery, McLaren Vale. Hardys had acquired Leasingham from H.J. Heinz in 1988 (Constellation Brands USA bought Hardys in 2003). From 1991 to 1994, O’Leary recalls, he made components of the powerful Leasingham Classic Clare reds and sparkling shiraz at Tintara. Chris Proud, and later Richard Rower, produced other components at Leasingham. All used grapes from Schobers.

H.J. Heinz planted the vineyard in 1976–77 at the height of a red wine boom. In unique wine industry fashion this was just in time for a cask-led white wine boom. Hardys expanded Schobers in 1996 to feed the next boom – seemingly insatiable global demand for Australian wine.

While the export boom persisted for another decade, it was, unfortunately, based mainly on cheaper, blended wine with the appellation “South Eastern Australia” or “Australia”. Despite some efforts our major exporters made few inroads with our fabulous regional wines and the world remains largely ignorant of their existence.

As a consequence, much of the vineyard expansion in high-quality, low-yielding areas like Clare (and Canberra) meant grape production cost beyond the level required for export wines. This realisation began mid decade of the new century but became bitter reality as our currency strengthened and the global financial crisis arrived.

Constellation headed for the exit – but not before Leasingham attempted to showcase the glory of Schobers vineyard.

Jim Murphy currently offers Leasingham Schobers Vineyard Shiraz 2005 and Cabernet Sauvignon 2006, made initially by Kerri Thompson and completed by Simon Osicka after Thompson left Leasingham in late 2006.

Thompson (now with her own Clare Valley winery, KT and the Falcon) says, “We focused on the Schobers and Provis vineyards and Schobers, being dry grown, was prone to inconsistent crop levels. But when it hit its straps it was bloody good”.

Indeed, recalls Thompson, Schobers 1994 shiraz proved bloody good enough to win the Jimmy Watson Trophy in 1995 under Leasingham’s Classic Clare label. But the style evolved considerably in the following decade. Under Hardys red winemaker Stephen Pannell, supported by Peter Dawson, the reds moved from the “solid oak and more rustic” style of the 1994 to become “refined and more expressive of fruit” – a perfect description of the exciting Leasingham Schobers Vineyard wines mentioned above (full reviews here next week).

Now for the first time in its history, the 71.8-hectare Schobers vineyard (shiraz 53.1ha, cabernet sauvignon 18.7ha), is receiving the single focus of private owners.

Murphy and Phelps will later this year release their first wines under the Schobers label at three price points – around $15, $22 and $35 – initially with some bought-in material, though form 2012, says Murphy, the reds (shiraz, cabernet and shiraz-cabernet) will be sourced entirely from the vineyard. The range will also include a Clare Valley riesling and, from the Adelaide Hills, a chardonnay and semillon sauvignon blanc blend.

Murphy and Phelps intend to enter Schobers wines in the show circuit and to seek wider distribution in retail outlets and restaurants.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2011

Wine review — Wilson, Solar Viejo and Yarra Loch

Wilson Polish Hill River Riesling 2010 $24

We found this wonderful drop on the wine list at Starfish Deli, Bateman’s Bay, and enjoyed it with fish and chips – a happy combination. It’s from the Wilson family’s stony, low-yielding vineyard in the Clare Valley’s cool Polish Hill River sub-region. It appeals for its pure, intense, lime-like varietal flavour and refreshingly acidic but very delicate finish. Winemaker Daniel Wilson says the vineyard lies on hard, stony ground and the spindly, thirty-plus year old vines consistently deliver powerful riesling flavours. He added that a new distribution arrangement means we can now find it in Canberra and on the south coast.

Rioja Crianza (Solar Viejo) 2007 $27–$30

This savoury red, from Spain’s Rioja region, is imported by the Wingara Wine Group, owners of Katnook Estate, Coonawarra. It’s 100 per cent tempranillo, unaided by the region’s usual blending partners garnacha and graciano. Fourteen months in oak and about a year in bottle brings it to an appealing stage of maturity. Rather than the plump, bright fruitiness we’re used to in Australian reds it’s aromatic but lean and savoury with a fine, firm backbone of tannin, releasing teasing bursts of fruit flavour. It drinks beautifully now and should hold its appeal for another few years.

Yarra Loch Yarra Valley Arneis 2010 $25

Annoyingly in this age of regional marketing the Coldstream, Yarra Valley, grape origin isn’t included on the label. That quibble aside, it’s a beautiful wine, with punchy, herbal aroma and rich, vibrant, juicy palate with zesty, refreshing acid backbone and dry finish. Winemaker David Bicknell fermented the wine partly in oak, partly in stainless steel – the combination giving great purity as well as body and structure. It weighs in at a modest 12.5 per cent alcohol. Arneis, meaning little rascal, is a white variety of Italy’s Piedmont region.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2011

Wine and love — thoughts for Valentine’s day

Wine and love can’t be separated. We woo with wine. We celebrate with it. We surrender to it. We let our hair down with it. We share its sensuality in ways not approached by other great human creations: We see it, smell it, taste it, feel its touch, fill our mouths with it, savour its lusciousness with our tongues and become intoxicated by it. It’s a component of attraction, seduction and shared pleasure.

Even that crusty old salt Ernest Hemingway praised wine’s unique sensuality. In “Death in the Afternoon” he wrote, ” Wine is one of the most civilized things in the world and one of the most natural things of the world that has been brought to the greatest perfection, and it offers a greater range for enjoyment and appreciation than, possibly, any other purely sensory thing”.

Joni Mitcheel breathed wine’s sensuality into this beautiful metaphor for love and desire:

Oh you are in my blood like holy wine
Oh and you taste so bitter but you taste so sweet
Oh I could drink a case of you
I could drink a case of you darling
And I would still be on my feet”.

While four centuries earlier Ben Jonson, longing for love’s pleasures, elevated it one notch above wine:

Drink to me only with thine eyes,
And I will pledge with mine;
Or leave a kiss but in the cup,
And I’ll not look for wine.

Jonson simply echoed the even older Song of Solomon, “How much better is thy love than wine!”

How dreary, dour, joyless and acerbic, even vinegary, by comparison was the temperance movement’s slogan “lips that touch wine shall never kiss mine”.

Busy Michelangelo, sniffing a sexual metaphor in wine, penned an evocative, even lurid, impression of vernaccia, a white wine from the ancient Tuscan town of San Gimignano. “It kisses, licks, bites, thrusts and stings”, he noted.

The description doesn’t gel with modern, tart, dry vernaccia. But it leapt to mind when tasting Tim Adams Botrytis Riesling 2010 featured in today’s wine reviews. Now there’s a wine that kisses and licks with its luscious, sweet fruit, then stings with its tangy, sharp, lime-like acidity.

An even more direct and anatomical metaphor came at a National Press Club dinner hosted by wine merchants David and Richard Farmer in the early eighties. A prominent female political journalist of the time likened Sauternes to “making love [euphemism inserted] when I’m drunk – dry but luscious”.

Perhaps her companion was sober. Perhaps he’d heeded the porter in Shakespeare’s Macbeth: “Drink, sir, is a great provoker of three things – nose-painting, sleep and urine. Lechery, sir, it provokes, and unprovokes; it provokes the desire, but it takes away the performance; therefore, much drink may be said to be an equivocator with lechery: it makes him, and it mars him; it sets him on, and it takes him off; it persuades him, and disheartens him; makes him stand to, and not stand to; in conclusion, equivocates him in a sleep, and, giving him the lie, leaves him”.

Here the emphasis shifts from sensuous wine and shared pleasure to alcohol-fuelled seduction and lechery – a notion neatly captured in Ogden Nash’s “Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker”.

Wine-fuelled lechery, however, reaches its raunchy depths in the final verse of Flanders’ and Swan’s popular, “Have some Madeira m’dear”. Strangely, much drink turns out not to be an equivocator:

Until the next morning, she woke up in bed
With a smile on her lips and an ache in her head
And a beard in her ear ‘ole that tickled and said,
‘Have some Madeira, m’dear’”.

Lechery might be OK for obscure, potent Madeira. But it’s a long way from the image Champagne likes to promote. Long seen as the ultimate wine of mutual seduction, Champagne combines an instant, subtle, inhibition-smashing rush of alcohol with a unique, delicate, sensual flavour. It’s a luxurious a symbol of generosity, sharing, celebration and sexiness.

Worth noting at Valentine’s, though, is a comment made by Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger, head of Champagne Taittinger, reported by Decanter magazine from the Reuters Global Luxury Summit in June 2010: “Champagne’s stiffest competition comes not from Prosecco, Cava or English sparkling wine – but from Viagra”.

Tongue in cheek? Perhaps even more tongue in cheek, could this be a demographic indicator? Are ageing baby boomer males countering Shakespearean over indulgence with the wonder drug?

As thrilling as Champagne is, pinot noir at its best is perhaps the most sensuous wine of all. Perhaps it’s what Hemingway and Mitchell had in mind. Perhaps it might’ve been Michelangelo’s gold standard. Main Ridge Half Acre 2009 in today’s reviews is that sort of wine – deeply sensuous, aesthetically pleasing and “brought to perfection”.

In the spirit of Martin Luther’s “He who loves not wine, women and song remains a fool his whole life long”, and Cat Empire’s “I’m going to die with a twinkle in my eye, cause I sung songs, spun stories, loved, laughed and drank wine” — this week’s wine selections presents sensually pleasing wines of all shades – wines we can savour, love and laugh over on Valentine’s day.

Copyright Chris Shanahan 2011

Valentine’s wine review — Lambert Vineyards, Best’s, Taittenger, Main Ridge Estate, Riposte and Tim Adams

Lambert Vineyards Pinot Gris 2008 $24
Wamboin, Canberra District, New South Wales

Ruth and Steve Lambert use the French “gris” rather than Italian “grigio” and back it with a wine in the Alsacian style. The colour’s a deep yellow and fresh, pear-like varietal flavour rises above a viscous, smooth, moderately sweet and warmly alcoholic palate. The viscosity and residual grape sugar set this style apart from the crisp dryness of more mainstream varieties. The body, sweetness and a little kiss of tannin make it good company for robust food, for example grilled salmon.

Best’s Thomson Family Shiraz 2008 $150
Great Western, Grampians Region, Victoria

Why not celebrate Valentine’s day at home, enjoying home-cooked food and savouring a luxurious red. Thomson Family shiraz, sourced from vines planted in 1867, offers a profound savoury, firm expression of the variety – a wine of rare dimension for long cellaring. Its softer, more voluptuously fruity cellar mate, Bin O Shiraz 2008( $65), might be an even more-seductive-now option. It’s sourced from estate vines planted in the late nineteenth and mid twentieth century.

Taittinger Prelude Grand Crus Champagne $130

There’s a lovable elegance and creamy richness to the Taittinger Champagnes. And with the non-vintage Prelude blend comes an extra flavour dimension and pure magic that has little to do with winemaking technique. The key is grape quality – in this instance top-notch material from some of the Champagne region’s greatest vineyards, pinot noir from the Montagne de Reims and chardonnay from the Cotes des Blancs. What a lovely, gentle, elegant Valentine’s treat.

Main Ridge Estate Half Acre Pinot Noir 2009 $70
Mornington Peninsular, Victoria

Sex and wine share a sense of anticipation driven by sensual cues. And if any wine can be sexy, surely it’s pinot noir. No other variety seduces so completely – the shimmering, limpid, crimson colour; the sweet, floral, musky, earthy, savoury aroma; and the juicy, slurpy, slippery, firm-but-tender flood of liquid on our palates. Indeed, for the sufficiently temperate, there’s every hope of enjoying both in one night. Our Valentine’s choice is the demure but ultimately naked pleasure revealed in Main Ridge 2009.

Riposte The Sabre Pinot Noir 2009 $29
Adelaide Hills, South Australia

The Sabre, delivers pinot seduction at a realistic price. Like its impressive $20 cellar mate, the “Dagger” 2010, reviewed last month, it’s made by Tim Knappstein. Where the Dagger offers delicious, upfront, drink-now pinot flavour, The more tightly coiled Sabre needs time to unwind. Over time the fruity, savoury, spicy pinot flavours push through the firm but fine backbone of tannin. The Sabre won the pinot trophy at the Adelaide Hills wine show.

Tim Adams Botrytis Riesling 2010 375ml $31
Clare Valley, South Australia

This is another deeply sensuous Valentine’s wine, suited to sinfully creamy, stinky, veiny, runny cheese, perhaps mixed with honey, perhaps scooped out and slurped down with Silo bread. It’s very sweet, as the style should be. But the intense, lime-like varietal flavour and searing acidity keep it fresh, balanced and interesting for glass after glass. Tim Adams made it from late picked, very ripe, botrytis-infected riesling grapes from his Ireland’s Vineyard.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2011

Wine review — d’Arenberg, Kingston Estate and Michel Chapoutier

d’Arenberg The Money Spider McLaren Vale Roussanne 2009 $17-$19

d’Arenberg, The Vale’s master of the Rhône Valley red varieties grenache, shiraz and mourvedre, some years back turned its hand, with equal panache, to the white varieties, marsanne, viognier and roussanne. The shy roussanne appeals strongly in the 2009 vintage. The aroma and flavour are reminiscent of stone fruit and honey. The palate begins juicy, full and smoothly viscous. But it’s also dry and savoury with a pleasant, subtle twist of tannin to finish. In its northern Rhone home, roussanne is normally blended with other varieties, but in Money Spider it stands comfortably alone.

Kingston Estate Padthaway-Adelaide Hills Chardonnay 2010 $12–$14

In this blend Bill Moularadellis combines the full, ripe-melon and nectarine character of chardonnay from Padthaway (about two hours drive north of Mount Gambier) with tangier, citrus-like material from the cooler Adelaide Hills. It’s tasty, inexpensive and always tempting to come back for another sip as the wine’s complex and interesting but also bright, fruity and refreshing. Clever use of oak and contact with yeast lees added texture and subtle flavours as a backdrop to the vibrant varietal flavours.

Cotes-du-Rhone (M. Chapoutier) 2008 $15–$18

This is what a French country wine should be about but often is not – clean, tasty, pleasing to drink, realistically priced with flavours reflecting region and variety. Chapoutier’s blend combines grenache and shiraz from the Drome, Vaucluse, Gard and Ardeche in the southern Rhone Valley. It’s medium bodied, with spicy, earthy grenache leading the nose and palate and shiraz adding grip and structure. It’s not as fleshy or as in-your-face fruity as comparable Australian blends, but that’s only to do with individual style, not quality. What a terrific, distinctive drink at a fair price.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2011